A group of gorillas at the Atlanta Zoo are set to finally be vaccinated after testing positive for coronavirus, according to a public statement by zoo officials released on Sunday.
The western lowland gorillas of the zoo were seen coughing with a runny nose and decreased appetite, prompting the first tests. Nasal, oral and fecal samples were tested before the zoo received the first results that the gorillas had been infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
The delta variant was identified in at least one of the gorillas during further testing. Twenty gorillas live in the zoo among four different groups. All are being tested – 18 of them showing symptoms – and results are expected later this week. Several of the gorillas are currently being treated with monoclonal antibodies, but the next step will be a vaccination specifically developed for animals, according to the zoo.
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“The teams are monitoring the affected gorillas very closely and hope they will make a full recovery,” Sam Rivera, senior director of animal health, said in a statement. “They are receiving the best possible care, and we are ready to provide additional supportive care if necessary. We are very concerned that these infections have occurred, especially with our safety protocols. “
It is not known how the gorillas became infected, as the zoo said staff who worked with the animals were fully vaccinated.
Experts have expressed concern over the past year over the coronavirus infecting gorillas, an endangered species that shares 98.4% of its DNA with humans and are inherently social animals.
This is not the first time that zoo animals have been affected by the virus. The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance said in March that a group of great apes had received an experimental vaccine developed by veterinary pharmaceutical company Zoetis. Then, the Oakland Zoo administered Zoetis during the summer to its tigers, bears, pumas and ferrets.
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The Atlanta Zoo said in a statement that it has already been cleared by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Georgia state veterinarian to receive the Zoetis vaccine. As the gorillas recover, they will also receive the vaccine.
Contribution: The Associated Press